Berkeley, California, may become one of the first cities in the US to remove police from traffic stops. It’s an effort to reduce racial profiling in policing, city officials say.
Members of Berkeley City Council will vote on the proposal this week. Titled “BerkDOT: Reimaging Transportation for a Racially Just Future,” the proposal would see the city create a Department of Transportation responsible for enforcing traffic laws instead of leaving that up to police.
The policy recommendation was crafted after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, three Black Americans whose killings inspired thousands of protesters to demonstrate against racism and police brutality.
Tuesday’s council meeting won’t be the first time officials have toyed with the idea of ending police traffic stops. But the need to shift traffic stop responsibility has grown urgent, councilmembers wrote in their letter to Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and the other members.
Citing the names of three Black Americans — Philando Castile, Maurice Gordon and Sandra Bland, two of whom were killed by police during a traffic stop and one of whom, Bland, who was found hanged after she was jailed following a traffic stop — councilmembers said that routine traffic stops turn deadly far too often.
They suggested the city follow the example set by nearby Oakland, which created a separate Department of Transportation to reduce the likelihood of racially motivated traffic stops.
“Berkeley can lead the nation in refocusing its traffic enforcement efforts on equitable enforcement, focusing on a cooperative compliance model rather than a punitive model,” councilmembers wrote. “A Department of Transportation in the City of Berkeley could shift traffic enforcement, parking enforcement, crossing guards, and collision response & reporting away from police officers — reducing the need for police interaction with civilians — and ensure a racial justice lens in the way we approach transportation policies, programs and Infrastructure.”
Councilmember Lori Droste told CNN affiliate KGO she didn’t know where the money for the new department would come from, but community organizer Darrell Owens suggested the city could slash the police department’s budget to find the funds.
“A minor traffic violation should not have resulted in the murder of a black or brown body, but at the same time we can also re-examine the nature of punitive law enforcement and broken-windows policing that makes traffic enforcement so deadly to begin with,” said Owens, who leads the housing and traffic nonprofit East Bay for Everyone.
Traffic stops and racial bias
Traffic stops are the most common point of contact between the public and police, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. But when police initiated contact in any situation, Black Americans are more likely to experience threats of use of force than White Americans, the bureau reported in 2018.
Stanford University’s Open Policing Project, which compiles data from police departments across the US, found that police pull over Black drivers at higher rates than White drivers: In neighboring San Francisco, 32 out of 100 Black people were pulled over by police. Just nine out of 100 White people were pulled over in the city, according to the project.
But bias becomes more obvious after the stop, researchers said. Black and Hispanic drivers are searched more often White drivers. And through a “threshold test,” researchers found that police don’t need as much evidence to search Black and Hispanic drivers’ cars — evidence of discrimination, they said.